One of my favorite things to do is plan cheap meals for families. I can’t explain it. I get a real adrenaline rush coming up with a budget and planning how to feed as many people with that money as possible. I think it comes from the years I spent living with my very frugal grandmother who grew up during the Great Depression and had a talent for living well on a fixed income.
You can feed your family on a tight budget, and if you have access to a stove and refrigeration you do NOT have to clip any coupons or eat a bunch of processed food to do it. (I recognize that some families are not in the position to have those luxuries.) If you have the ability to cook your own food and want to learn how to do it on a budget, this is the place for you! I’m excited to show you how. I’m not using any coupons this week and I’m including lots of fresh and frozen veggies.
When I lived with Mommom, I would drive her to the bank every month to cash her Social Security check. She would ask for 4 $50 bills, and put them in a paper envelope, and that was our food/paper products/toiletries money for the entire month. Mommom never spent more than $50 on a week’s worth of food and other household products, but the fridge and pantry were always full and her favorite thing in the entire world was feeding other people. I never felt like we were doing without. She never went to big stores like Walmart or Target, her only trip to the store was the one we took each week to her closest grocery store. She didn’t clip coupons very often, and she used that “grocery” money for everything, including things like laundry detergent and deodorant, so often the actual food total was well below $50.
Today, using my Mommom as our inspiration, I want to share with you a $35 meal plan that could easily feed a family of 4 for an entire week.
The last time I did this, my budget was $30 for dinners. This time I gave myself an extra $5 to account for using beef in several of the recipes and because I wanted to make 3 meals a day out of that money.
The $35 is still mostly for dinners, but it can easily be stretched to other meals to last the whole week. I recommend, if possible, increasing your budget to $50 to account for extra items for breakfast and lunch or any extras you might want to add in. I recommend buying oats and some affordable fruit like bananas or whatever is on sale, as well as milk and peanut butter and a snack you will enjoy. That is totally optional, but will be very helpful because it gives you a LOT more bang for your buck.
I use real prices for my area in Pennsylvania to come up with my plans for these posts. I put the ingredients in my online shopping cart for Peapod, which is the delivery service for Giant grocery stores. These are their actual prices this week. Disclaimer, I’m not a dietician, just a mom stretching a dollar, so keep that in mind. The prices in your area may be different. I did assume you had a few things on-hand like condiments. For this week I recommend ketchup, mayo, and Worcestershire sauce if you have it. And basic spices. If not, no big deal you do not need to buy them, the menu will still work.
Here is the $35 shopping list. If you are a smaller family or single person, this can easily stretch an entire week, possibly more. I will show you how.
1 bunch of celery, $1.49
1 pound bag of Organic carrots, $1.00
5 pound bag of russet potatoes, $2.99
3 lb package of 73% ground beef, $8.99
Shredded Mozzarella cheese, $2.00
Grade A Large Eggs (2), $1.19 each
Store brand sandwich bread (2), $1.09 each
8 count hotdog rolls, $0.99
Frozen broccoli florets, $1.50
Frozen chopped onions, $1.00
Frozen sweet corn, $1
1 box of store brand spaghetti, $0.89
*1 can of coconut milk $1.59
Store brand spaghetti sauce (2), $1.33 each
12 oz can of tuna, $3.79
*If money is very tight, feel free not to buy the coconut milk. You won’t really miss it, but it’s nice to add to soup or smoothies or make homemade ice cream. If you can, use that extra money to stock up on things like garlic or spices.
Total for Basics: $35.34
If you are adding breakfast and lunch for a family, you can absolutely stretch that $35 budget to make it last all week, and I’ll show you how! But if you have the wiggle room, you might also want to pick up…
Extras, if the budget allows:
Bananas, 1 bunch, $1.99
1 Gallon of milk, $3.67
Shredded cheddar cheese, store brand, $2.00
Store brand tortillas, 16 count, $1.19
Store brand jelly, $1.79
Store brand peanut butter $1.99
Store brand organic oats, $2.89
Subtotal for add-ons: $15.52
Total with extras: $50.86 for one week to feed a family of 4
Even with the extras, that’s an average of $1.82 per person each day, or about 60 cents per serving. I think that’s pretty good! Especially because we included several organic options. Adding the extras should also give us leftovers to help carry us into the next week. But if you are on a very tight budget, that’s ok! I promise we can make it work! If you are sticking with the $35 budget for the entire menu for the week with 3 meals a day for a family of 4, then it works out to be about 42 cents per serving.
Now on to the good stuff
Using the above ingredients gives you lots of options! You won’t be able to make everything on the list, but pick and choose your favorites throughout the week.
$35 Budget: Eggs, toast, use a few potatoes and onions to make hash browns or home fries, use leftovers such as mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes or save a few spoonfuls of ground beef and veggies from dinners to add to omelets or breakfast casserole in the morning.
$50 Budget: All of the above, plus other options like stovetop oatmeal, 3 ingredient breakfast cookies, peanut butter and banana on toast, homemade granola, breakfast tacos, PB & banana smoothies, overnight oats, or flourless pancakes
$35 Budget: Leftovers from dinners, tuna or egg salad sandwiches, baked potatoes, cheese fries
$50 Budget: All of the above plus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, quesadillas, grilled cheese or cheese toast, or individual tortilla pizzas
$35 Budget: Cut a few carrots and celery stalks into sticks to snack on throughout the week or use one or two potatoes to make your own french fries or baked potato chips.
$50 Budget: All of the above plus 3 ingredient cookies, smoothies, banana or coconut milk ice cream, etc. (Look at the breakfast options and use a few ideas for snacking.)
You can always drink water. If you bought the extras, there is also milk and you have ingredients to make a smoothie. If you have teabags at home, make a large batch of iced tea to keep in the fridge.
Whether you are using the $35 or the $50 budget, you can make everything on this list.
Day 1: Meatloaf with roasted carrots and potatoes.
Divide the beef into 3 equal one-pound portions. Use one 1lb of meat to make a meatloaf. Set the other two pounds aside. Use a traditional meatloaf recipe if you have the ingredients in your pantry. If not, just open one jar of pasta sauce and use 2 tablespoons of it to flavor your meatloaf. Save the rest of the sauce in the fridge for another dinner.
Use two or three carrots and two or three potatoes, each cut into bite-sized chunks. Bake your meatloaf in a 13×9 inch pan with the chopped vegetables spread out around it. Bake it in a 350 degree oven for at least one hour or until it is no longer red or pink in the center.
Use the pan drippings to make a yummy gravy.
Alternatively, you could make mashed potatoes as a side dish. If you do, save your left-overs to make potato pancakes for breakfast!
* Use your left-overs: Set aside one slice of cooked meatloaf. You can crumble this up and use it to make a breakfast casserole or omelets later in the week. Left-over meatloaf can be eaten for lunches.
**Make ahead: Brown one of the extra pounds of ground beef and drain the grease. Let it cool, then store the cooked meat in the freezer to use later in the week.
Also, make sure you are saving your vegetable peelings and scraps! Store them in the freezer and use them later in the week to make broth for soup.
Day 2: Meatball Subs
Use the uncooked pound of ground beef to make small meatballs. After they are cooked, mix them into one jar of the pasta sauce. (Stretch your sauce by just adding a bit of water!) Serve in toasted hotdog buns with a sprinkle of shredded cheese on top.
Day 3: Breakfast for dinner
You can make any of the breakfast options above, but for a savory choice that helps you use up your left-overs, use a dozen eggs, a sprinkle of cheese, and any leftover vegetables along with that slice of crumbled meatloaf you saved and make omelets or breakfast casserole.
Day 4: Broccoli and Cheese Baked Potatoes
Make 4 baked potatoes (You can do this in the oven or quickly in the microwave, or you could also cover them with foil and do this in a slow cooker while you are at work). Top the cooked potatoes with steamed broccoli and a sprinkle of cheese and put them back into the oven until the cheese is melted. Alternatively, you could make cheese fries instead and serve them with a side of roasted broccoli.
Day 5: Corn and Potato Soup
Use your vegetable peels from the freezer to make vegetable stock. Use the frozen corn, potatoes, and some of the onions and other veggies to make a yummy and simple corn and potato soup, like this one. I like to add coconut milk to mine. If you don’t, then skip that ingredient on your shopping list and use the extra money to stock up on basics like garlic or spices. This soup is even better as left-overs the next day.
Day 6: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
Defrost the cooked ground beef and use it for dinner tonight*. Mix it with the second jar of pasta sauce. Serve over one box of cooked spaghetti noodles.
*If you decide to make this a meatless meal and just serve the noodles with tomato sauce and a sprinkle of cheese, then you can stretch the food even further and save the extra meat for tacos or sloppy joes another night.
Day 7: Use It or Lose It Night!
If you have not used the can of tuna yet by this point in the week, then you can have tuna sandwiches or tuna cakes for dinner. You could also buy an extra box of noodles by omitting the coconut milk from the list to have another spaghetti night (or switch it up for a different kind of noodles on your shopping list and make tuna casserole). Or just put out anything you have left from other dinners throughout the week to use it up and make sure it doesn’t go to waste.
Wrapping It Up
Make sure to freeze any left-overs you have and think of creative ways to stretch your food for a few more days.
If you are a single person or a family of two, there will obviously be more left-overs and there are probably enough meals here to stretch for at least ten days.
Please let me know if you like these $35 weekly meal plans. I hope they are helping some other families cut their food costs and eat well on a budget.
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